Doggie Dental hygiene

February is National Dental Month in the veterinary world.

Are we pushing for whiteners and brighteners, hoping to put a Hollywood-worthy smile on every doggie face? Nope, the hype is really about health.

It’s pretty amazing we don’t see more problems within our pets’ mouths. People brush two minutes at least twice a day, then there’s flossing and mouth wash.

Yet, people still get cavities that lead to fillings and abscesses that lead to root canals, crowns and crooked teeth that require braces.

Dogs can’t do any of that on their own. Still, for some reason we’re surprised when their teeth rot and their mouth is full of mossy brown teeth. “Doggie breath” is not a cute, endearing term. The funk of some dog’s breath will make you want to vomit.

Now, imagine your pet having live with that.

Not surprisingly, brushing your pets’ teeth daily is the gold standard of dental care for veterinary patients. What does come as a surprise is that even the most devoted client is frustrated and gives up after one or two attempts.

It takes years to get small children to brush their teeth — why are your expectations so high when it comes to your pet?

This is what I recommend to owners pursuing happiness in the pet dental field (directed to dog owners. Cats are, indeed, a different animal).


Begin by choosing a toothpaste meant for dogs. Meat flavored, not mint. Something the dog likes. Do not expect the toothpaste to have suds and foam like yours. That is a product of detergents, which if swallowed by the dog could upset a sensitive stomach. Some may contain fluoride, a natural bacteriostatic ingredient.

Step One : Place a smidgeon of toothpaste on your finger and call your dog to you, with a happy phrase like “Tooth time!” Gently hold the dog’s head, rub the toothpaste quickly on the dogs front teeth, praise your dog and let it go.

The next day, preferably about the same time, repeat.

After a few days, your dog will probably be telling you that it’s “tooth time.”

Step Two : Once your dog is bouncing up for that daily tooth treat, extend the time by rubbing the toothpaste over the teeth and gums. Go as long as your pet stands still. Once your dog squirms, praise and release. Work your way up gradually until you are finger brushing the entire mouth. Small additional amounts of toothpaste may be used. This is not a meal!

Step Three: It may have taken weeks or even months to get to this point, but once your dog has accepted finger brushing, you return to square one. Get an infant toothbrush, one that is soft and small or large enough to fit your dog’s mouth comfortably. Place a small amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush and gently wipe it on the front teeth. Praise and release your pet. Gradually extend the brushing time until you are able to fully brush all the teeth in your pet’s mouth.

The end goal is not how fast you can teach your dog, but how thoroughly you accomplish the task.

It really doesn’t matter if it takes a couple of months to enjoy a successful Tooth Time together. It is a job well done and can make all the difference in the world to your dog’s oral health. Rotten teeth are painful.

Throughout the years I have had clients tell me their pet act years younger once they’ve undergone dental work, with healthy teeth cleaned and infected teeth removed.

And if you still aren’t feeling motivated, I hear there is a song about brushing your teeth set to the tune of “Jingle Bells”.

I’ll bet watching you sing that to your dog would put a smile on their doggie face.

(You can post those sing a long videos of you and your pet on my Facebook page!)

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

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